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What is Oral Lichen Planus?

By Laura Evans
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Oral lichen planus is an inflammatory disease that typically affects the cheeks on the inside of the mouth, although the disease can also develop in other parts of the mouth such as the gums, the tongue, and the lips. This disease is characterized by swollen, itchy rashes. Although there is no cure for oral lichen planus, the symptoms of the disease can be treated.

Symptoms of lichen planus can include a lacey-looking rash that runs over the tongue or the cheeks, a burning, painful or dry mouth, and open red sores. People with this condition can experience other symptoms such as sore gums or a diminished sense of taste. Some sufferers experience ulcers or lesions, although this is less common.

No one knows exactly what causes oral lichen planus. Current theories lean toward the idea that lichen planus develops as a result of an autoimmune response. This results in an inflammation of mucous membranes.

While the exact causes of oral lichen planus remain unknown, people can increase their risk of developing oral lichen planus by taking some kinds of medications that are used to treat high blood pressure or heart conditions. In addition, those who have immune disorders may be more likely to develop lichen planus. Allergies to food additives, dyes, or dental metals may also trigger this condition.

Oral lichen planus typically develops more often in adults than in children. In addition, lichen planus is more common among women than among men. Lichen planus is a chronic condition. An outbreak can last for months or up to years.

Treatment of oral lichen planus depends on the severity of the condition. In addition, doctors may look to see if an underlying medical problem has led to the development of lichen planus. People who have mild symptoms may not require any type of treatment other than brushing and flossing their teeth regularly, avoiding spicy or acidic foods, or cutting back or stopping drinking alcohol or using tobacco products.

If the symptoms are more severe, a physician may prescribe antihistamines, corticosteroids in ointment or pill forms, or mouth washes or sprays to help numb the mouth. In addition, a doctor may prescribe immunosuppressant medications to tamp down the immune system. People may have to try several options before finding the most effective medications to treat oral lichen planus.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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